Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

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Northrop P-61C Black Widow

The heavily-armed Black Widow was the United States' first aircraft specifically designed as a night-fighter. The P-61 carried radar equipment in its nose that enabled its crew of two or three to locate enemy aircraft in total darkness and fly into proper position to attack.

The XP-61 was flight-tested in 1942 and the delivery of production aircraft began in late 1943. The P-61 flew its first operational intercept mission as a night fighter in Europe on July 3, 1944, and later was also used as a night intruder over enemy territory. In the Pacific, a Black Widow claimed its first "kill" on the night of July 6, 1944. As P-61s became available, they replaced interim Douglas P-70s and Bristol Beaufighters in all USAAF night fighter squadrons.

During World War II, Northrop built approximately 700 P-61s; 41 of these were C models manufactured in the summer of 1945 offering greater speed and capable of operating at higher altitude. The Black Widow on display was presented to the museum by the Tecumseh Council, Boy Scouts of America, Springfield, Ohio, in 1958. It is painted and marked as a P-61B assigned to the 550th Night Fighter Squadron serving in the Pacific in 1945. 

Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns in upper turret and four 20mm cannons in belly; 6,400 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800s of 2,100 hp each
Maximum speed: 425 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,200 miles
Ceiling: 46,200 ft.
Span: 66 ft.
Length: 49 ft. 7 in.
Height: 14 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 35,855 lbs. loaded
Serial number: 43-8353

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Find Out More
Related Fact Sheets
Bristol Beaufighter
Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Engine
Cockpit360 Images
View the P-61C Pilot Station
View the P-61C Forward Crew Compartment
View the P-61C Aft Crew Compartment
Other Resources
Conquering the Night: Army Air Forces Night Fighters at War (Provided by AFHSO)